Izakaya Hannah – a Gentle Japanese
I have a particular fondness for Japanese cuisine in all its varied formats. UMU, a stunning 2 Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair is known for high end Japanese fine dining and when I learnt that the owner of Hannah, Chef Daisuke Shimoyama, trained first at a three-star restaurant in Japan before working as head chef at UMU for six years I was intrigued.
Just around the back of County Hall, Hannah turned out to be a quirky restaurant, perhaps without some of the luxurious trappings you might expect from a Japanese fine dining restaurant, but with a charm and uniqueness all its own – including this rather strange inanimate guest lurking in the corner!
At lunchtime, the restaurant serves bento boxes but in the evening there’s an a la carte menu and a series of Omakase (prix fixe) tasting menus which I’d recommend as the perfect way to experience Hannah.
My companion for the evening is a trained Sake specialist and I enjoyed her help picking what to drink from a rather fine list of Sake (and Whiskey!). And we sat back to enjoy what proved to be a delicious and innovative menu.
Scallop with spring vegetables appeared in a tiny black lacquered pot. The most delicate of flavours and aromas when the lid of the pot was lifted. A mixture of raw scallop with seasonal vegetables served with a bonito flake and yuzu jelly (Tosazu) made for the perfect way to start the meal.
Chawan Mushi was a savoury steamed egg custard served with slow-cooked pork belly topped with white summer truffles. Another achingly delicate flavour pairing, with the scent of the summer truffles really complementing the egg custard and just a morsel of pork belly to add flavour and texture.
Three tiny portions of sashimi appeared served on a charcoal log. Tuna toro, fine slithers of seabass and an unexpectedly creamy piece of squid apparently cut from the inside of the fish to provide quite a unique flavour. We learnt that much of the fish used at Hannah comes from Cornwall, while the tuna comes from Spain. I had to google to discover what the ‘award-winning Barbate’ is – it turns out to be a particular region of Spain where almadraba fishing is still practised. A net is hung between two boats to catch bluefin tuna. Experienced divers jump in to check the fish and only slaughter those over 200lbs. The result, I can confirm, is as restaurant Hannah suggests, an extra distinct butter-like soft taste. Served with fronds of wakame, these were delicious mouthfuls.
Next, an intriguing dish of ‘cold somen noodles with wagyu’ which was served in an amazing ice bowl. The description sounds distinctly unappealing to my (very) Western palate, but the result was delicious, with lightly blanched wagyu topping a savoury noodle dish that popped with flavour. Very fine wheat flour noodles are stretched and airdried before being cooked and cooled, to serve with a soupy sauce flavoured with spring onion, ginger and shiso.
My personal favourite was a dish of Cornish seabass with crispy skin, charcoal grilled with soy sauce and Japanese ginger. Served with a Jerusalem artichoke puree, it was delicious.
Next, a dish of five-day miso-marinated Spanish Iberico Pressa served with a leek sauce and shitake mushrooms. I’ve only ever eaten Iberico Pressa in Spanish restaurants but loved this east-west fusion dish.
Our last savoury dish was a spider crab congee with a Clarence Court egg. Served on a pretty clay stove with a little charcoal burner to keep the dish warm, this was a porridge-like mixture with a whole soft egg, topped with seaweed and mitsuba (Japanese parsley). This kind of comfort food works well for me, despite the egg and I’d happily feast on a portion again.
To finish the meal a pretty orange jelly served in a whole orange skin with layers of lemongrass and lemon jelly topped with orange jelly and seasonal fruits (cherry and mango).
We enjoyed three flasks of sake throughout the meal. Tamagawa Special from the Kyoto Prefecture – a nutty and toasty sake with wild berry zing, a richly flavoured full-bodied expression of Junmai. Junmai Daiginjo – Hoya Kuze No Hana from the Miyagi Prefecture. This sake is made from a special kind of rice only grown in this prefecture. Smooth and gentle, light taste with delicacy and finesse. And finally, Sohomare Tochigi prefecture which was robustly clean, elegant, rich and flavourful.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Restaurant Hannah and I’ll certainly be back. I’m keen to try one of the bento boxes served at lunch, perfect for local workers. And, I loved the integration of food with natural presentation – wood, charcoal and stone. Personally, I think Hannah goes well beyond the normal idea of Izakaya – a Japanese pub. The food is fine dining quality though the setting is quirky and informal. Definitely one to remember!
London, SE1 7PB
Looking for other Southbank restaurants? Do check out our roundup of pre-theatre dining options on the Southbank